ST. LOUIS to CHICAGO – Choo choo cha-boogie. Whoo! Whoo!
We’re chugging along here at a pretty fast pace – 65 to 80 mph or so. So much to see and do, and we haven’t even left the train yet.
Right now, we’re traveling aboard Train 22, the Texas Eagle, seated in the upper level (observation deck) of the train’s lounge car. Out the window is like watching an enormous panoramic landscape canvas scroll by at superfast pace.
Up above, through the skylight window, you can see Canadian geese flying against a cottony blanket of clouds, which veils a winking sun. In the distance, thick plumes of steam rise from the chimneys of factories processing dairy and grain. It’s mid-April and leaves aren’t on the trees yet.
A nearby passenger tells a friend that she prefers the observation deck because it’s “bright and sunny up here” with its wide framed windows and skylights.
The lounge car is nice, indeed. You can amble down the stairwell to grab a beverage (coffee, tea, soda, bottled water) or snack (chips, candy bars, sandwiches, ice cream, etc.) in the café and then jump back up to grab a window seat and watch the earth slip by. They have tables and comfy lounge seats up here: people playing cards, reading, munching on snacks, listening to music, sipping coffee and tea, relaxing.
The observation deck is very posh and roomy. We liked it.
However, don’t expect Zen quiet up there, Amtrak conductors passing behind you every 30 min. to an hour to shout the upcoming train stops repeatedly. While necessary, it can be somewhat disconcerting, particularly if you’re noise sensitive.
They keep the lounge car fairly cool temperature-wise, so if you don’t have a jacket, it helps to retreat to your bedroom or roomette and get cozy and stay warm. But the upper level observation deck is definitely the place to relax and hang out if you’re a coach or roomette passenger needing a bit more room and photo opportunities. We divided and conquered St. Louis in this manner. One to enjoy privacy and relative quiet of the roomette but not catching the full view, the other to spread out in the lounge and catch great shots of the arch and skyline.
There’s still enough daylight to see: verdant landscapes; farming paddocks lined with wheat and corn rows; pastoral, wide, open plains checkered with hay bales and grazing cattle alongside dairy farms, red barns and grain silos. We get one hour of sleep.
We de-train a few hours later in the middle of the morning 3 a.m. at Union Station in Cincinnati, Ohio. Thankfully there we meet Tom Holly – historian, GPS extraordinaire, travel expert. All in a friendly face and even a goodbye hug to catch our bus to get our rental car (all of which he looked up for us).
Our new cell phone was dead from a defective cord, and he found vendors along our drive (one in KY and one in TN) and brought forth bottled water and his paper atlas to chart courses through the Smoky Mountains’ Cumberland Gap.
He even sang a little Chattanooga Choo-Choo for us. Now that Amtrak man deserves a raise!